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July 5th, 2007:

Home again

Just wanted to let everybody know that I was discharged from the hospital today, and am back home resting up. I’ll tell the full story later, but for now I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for the well-wishes, and to Alex and Martha for their superb guest-blogging, which will continue for a little while longer while I get back on my feet. This ordeal has been hard on my family, but they came through like champions and I couldn’t have done it without them. To our friends Pat and Andrea for the babysitting and dog-walking, to my in-laws Tim and Sharon for all they did, and especially to Tiffany, Olivia, and Audrey: Thank you. I love you all.

Oswalt’s in

Because Smoltz is out.

Astros ace righthander Roy Oswalt is heading to the All-Star Game to replace Atlanta Braves righthander John Smoltz, who must skip the game because of right shoulder discomfort. Oswalt will join teammate Carlos Lee at the All-Star Game, which will be held next Tuesday at San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

This will be Oswalt’s third consecutive trip to the All-Star game, and second as a replacement for an injured player.

“It is fantastic,” he said via phone. “I just got off the phone with (San Diego Padres All-Star righthander) Jake Peavy and talked to him. I’m going to get to see him down there and see some friends that I’ve met over the past few years and I’m going to be on the same team with.”

I can’t imagine a better guy for the job. Oswalt’s consistently been one of my favorite Astros. As the mayor put it on Tuesday (I’m paraphrasing), he shows up and does what he’s supposed to do. Congratulations, Roy!

Increased safety at railroad crossings is a good thing

Unfortunately, I’m sure this story will be met with another uproar about irresponsible parenting:

Weeks after his daughter, niece and two of their friends crashed into a train and died, Doug Moyers is readying himself for a mission: upgrading safety measures at rail crossings.

“I’m going to become an expert in this, and we’re going out to save some lives,” he said.

He could find himself rather busy.

Roughly half of the nearly 1,800 at-grade, or street-level, crossings in the Houston area, like the East Archer location where the teens died June 14, have only “passive” safety devices that are not train-activated. These include “stop,” “yield” or “crossing ahead” signs, pavement markings and street lighting.

There are 25 crossings in the Texas Department of Transportation’s six-county Houston District that federal officials have approved for “active” signalization — flashing lights and crossing arms.

I think the Chron made a mistake in linking this too closely to last month’s story about the SUV-train crash. That story was met with too little sympathy and too much blame placed on the parents. Looking at some of the comments on the story, it looks like that same discussion was started up again.

Railroads consider at-grade crossings “an opportunity for something bad to happen” and applaud their elimination, Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Joe Arbona said.

TxDOT recommends about 15 crossings a year for improvements in the Houston district, ranking them with a formula that considers vehicle and train traffic, maximum train speed, types of warning devices in place and the crossing’s five-year crash history.

Arbona noted that installing flashing signals at an at-grade crossing cannot guarantee safety as long as some drivers ignore the warnings.

“More than half of accidents happen at places where you have signal lights,” he said.

However, a driver has to go to some trouble to crash through a crossing arm or deliberately go around it. All 25 of the approved upgrades call for gate arms.

[TxDOT spokeswoman Janelle] Gbur said the number of crossings equipped annually with flashers or gate arms depends largely on the federal money available. The combined state and federal funds for Texas total about $35 million a year, and it costs about $170,000 per crossing to add the lights and arms, she said.

The crux of this story is that railroad crossings are going to be safer – something that happens every year, according to the Chron. I don’t think anybody disagrees with improving safety at street-level crossings, but that point is obscured by the controversy over the teens who stole the SUV. That story really shouldn’t have raised all the hype it did in the first place, but that’s a month ago.

Who Wants To Run Against Nick Lampson?

Sounds like not so many Republicans want to be a contender this time around.

Bob Dunn at Fort Bend Now rates the Rs commitment to running in the Republican primary for 22 this way:

Shelley In Pink: 100%
Dean Hrbacek: 99%
Robert “Cookies” Talton: eh. Iffy.

Who is Dean Hrbacek? Former mayor of Sugar Land, ousted by Dave Wallace (who is not running for Congress this time around.)

It’s all very confusing on the Republican side, but it’s clear Nick Lampson is running again. Now, if it ends up being Shelley running against him, will we be victimized by a new campaign song? Free tip to her: use Aerosmith’s Pink.

Have You Seen SICKO?

I saw it yesterday. Seeing it on the Fourth of July didn’t exactly make me want to wave the flag. I cried during it and I cried afterwards. Our health care system is a mess and I left the movie with the feeling that it will fail me at some point in the near or distant future.

I didn’t know whether to be appalled at all of the people who are falling through the cracks now, or be worried sick that it could happen very, very easily to me.

When I got home last night, I was depressed to think that the only people who don’t have to worry about this are the people in political power like Bush and various Congress folks who do the bidding of the health care industry.

I’m not sure what’s more shocking in the movie, the stories of people we have thrown in the garbage over their poor health, or the news of all of the nations that take care of their citizens health for free (and focus on preventive care! Imagine that!) – Cuba, France, England and Canada are featured.

I recommend everyone go see this and then ask yourself why, in our democracy, we are so callous to our fellow Americans.